The Berlinale Blog: L-G-B-T go?

Eve Lucas finds that coupling identity and performance in the lives of trans* people and drag queens bears rare fruits in 52 Tuesdays and Castanha.

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Welcome to one of the Berlinale’s most popular awards, the Teddy. And welcome also to a couple of truly unusual films, both of which should be up there, contending.

When your mother announces that she’s having a sex change, there’s not much in the way of experiential background to fall back on. Sure, there’s consulting and supportive ‘other’ parents, maybe some internet chat groups. But basically, you’re on your own  for one year of 52 Tuesdays (Section Generation 14+), during which Jane/James has testosterone treatment and real life experience (RLE) of living as a man, and 17-year-old daughter Billy (yes, identities are fluid) will go to live with Dad.

Names and designations are just an outward sign of the possibilities in play here, part of the confusion recorded by Billy on this movie’s very own black box: a video diary, part confidante, part elemental asset with which Billy measures her own development from legal child to adult: a development she explores with the help of Josh and Jasmine, friends from school and now, a new surrogate family. And because families in Billy’s world are sexually defined in a different way, her new family’s sexuality is also anything but self-evident.

“Why record this?” Billy asks Jane/James, who’s also filming the stages of his sex change. Australian director Sophie Hyde’s film is the best answer we could get. Because she shows these processes as messy, reflected in an amateur home video aesthetic, capturing transformation without trying to tidy it.

Examining authenticity through performance is also a central concern of Castanha (Forum) from Brazilian director Davi Pretto, which follows João Carlos Castanha, a 50-something gay, HIV infected part-time drag queen and actor through a formally much more rigorous environment. Castanha’s world is one of extenuated artificiality, from the tenebrous spaces of the flat he shares with his mother to the gay strip club at which he MCs and the garishly illuminated streets and alleys of his suburban territory. Darkest of all are the recesses of his own mind, where a long-dead lover lurks alongside fears for his own health and safety. Here too, lurk some last remaining illusions: illusions that he could still redefine himself as an actor, that there’s time left for a new start, a new life and those five minutes of glory.

Dealing with otherness by first accepting and then defining identity is a central concern in the LGBT community. These early Teddy candidates set the bar high as tenderly but shrewdly observed statements of private agony that are far too wise to promise resolution. Honesty is the better option, and these two very different versions of performance as manifestations of authenticity are a good start to what’s shaping up to be an especially rewarding Teddy year.

52 Tuesdays screens Feb 8, 20:00 (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Feb 9, 16:30 (CinemaxX 3), Feb 13, 09:30 (Zoo Palast 1) and Feb 15, 15:30 (Cubix 8).

Castanha screens Feb 7, 22:00 (CinemaxX 4), Feb 8, 13:45 (Cinestar 8), Feb 10, 22:30 (Arsenal 1) and Feb 14, 22:30 (Cubix 9)